Supercars were quickly evolving in the 1980s, and the decade produced some of the greatest motoring icons.
The 1980s signaled the birth of the accomplished supercars of today. New, money-laden markets in the Middle East and America meant that the clientele exercised the right to demand more from their performance cars. Many came and went, but those who succeeded helped build the foundations of the seven-figure supercars of today.
The F40 was the ultimate Ferrari. Many argue it still is; a car brimming with all that had been learned on road and track, and used to eye-watering effect. Coined as a go-kart for the road, the F40 weighed just 1100kg, yet enjoyed a twin-turbo 2.9-litre V8, developing 356kW. All this meant a ferocious power-to-weight ratio, and more importantly a set of performance figures capable of putting the Porsche 959 to shame. It topped 200mph (322km/h), looked like a full-fledged race car and went like one too. To many, the F40 is the greatest supercar of all-time.
It’s impossible to mention the F40 without following it up with the Porsche 959. Together the duo moved the goalposts of what could and should be expected from a supercar. While the Ferrari was the raw wild child, the 959 was a more rounded and usable proposition – filled with some seriously groundbreaking technology.
The computer-controlled all-wheel drive system featured torque vectoring and directed the 328kW from the flat-six twin-turbocharged engine to the road with ease. In an attempt to keep weight down, lightweight Kevlar and aluminum body panels were used.
Bonkers looks and a legendary V12 made the wide-arched Countach one of the defining supercar pin-ups of the ‘80s. Although it was launched in the 1970s, the Countach was very much alive and kicking throughout the ‘80s, growing into something that was unashamedly over the top. Over 335kW was produced from the most powerful QV models, with a 0-100km/h time of 4.9 and a top speed of 290km/h to suit.
More refined and easier to live with than the Countach? Sure it was. Does that make it any less of a supercar? Hell no! The Testarossa offered a crucial alternative in style; where the Countach used sharp angles the Ferrari used its girth (it was 8cm wider than the Lamborghini) to make its presence felt. Under the vast engine cover, the flat-12 4.9-litre engine produced 290kW, delivering its healthy performance with ease.
The car lived through a variety of renditions, including the 1992 512TR and the swansong F512 M of the early ‘90s.
The BMW M1 was one of the fire-starters for ‘80s supercars, and remains one of the very finest. Okay, the 206kW in-line six might not sound staggering in modern terms, but with a kerb weight of just 1300kg and some typically precision German engineering, the M1 could hold its own in the bends.
It also had an ace up its sleeve with practicality; whilst you’d need a sunny Sunday and a spare set of underwear to drive a Countach, the M1 was a supercar you could use day-to-day.
De Tomaso Pantera GT5
The Pantera was never the thoroughbred Modenese car that its elder statesmen were, but it was certainly no slouch. Powered by a Ford V8 (the last of which were supplied from Ford Australia’s Broadmeadow plant), the Pantera sounded brutal and didn’t hold back in its race to the 270km/h-barrier.
Ultimately the car was undermined by its majority backer, Ford, who pulled the plug on the project in 1975. Despite this, De Tomaso still churned out what it could, helping the Pantera to slowly gain recognition throughout the ‘80s, right up until the GT5 model met its end in 1992.
The Vector W8 represented America’s foray into the ‘80s supercar arena, and in terms of looks it was one of the wildest. Shaped upon aerospace posturing, the W8 came to market in 1989 after a long delay throughout the decade. Rather embarrassingly, the car broke down in the hands of new owner, Andre Agassi, who had just paid an outrageous $455,000 for the pleasure. When it did work however, it flew – a (claimed) top speed of 354km/h came via a 466kW V8.
RUF CTR Yellowbird
The Yellowbird came to fame during a shoot-out at VW’s test track at Ehra Lessien, in which the RUF-engineered Porsche blew everything away with a top speed of 339km/h. The Yellowbird’s legendary status was sealed by its starring role in Faszination (Google it).
Essentially it was a reworked 911, with the main headline being a twin-turbocharged flat-six engine producing 350kW and launching to 100km/h in a 4.1 seconds. It purified everything the 911 stood for, and still stands for today, and enthusiasts and the motoring press worshipped it as a result.
Aston Martin V8 Vantage Zagato
It took a long time for the next Aston Martin/Zagato relationship to come about following the DB4 GT Zagato, 26 years in-fact, but the wait wasn’t in vein. The Aston Martin V8 Vantage Zagato was a special car – capable of impressive handling and a decent top speed, thanks to a shortened chassis and its 322kW V8 engine. It’s rare, too. Only 52 examples were ever made, as well as 37 convertibles.
Ferrari 288 GTO
A 308 in drag? To the untrained eye, perhaps, however the 288 GTO became so much more of a car, icon and statement than the 308 ever did. The extra curves, bulges and flicks made on-lookers weak at the knees, and that’s before the key was turned. 298kW sent the GTO to 305km/h (a production world record at the time) courtesy of the twin-turbocharged V8 that would form the heart of the forthcoming F40. The ‘GTO’ badge on the car’s rear highlights its race pedigree, however rule changes in the world of motorsport meant that the 288 GTO would never see the circuit competitively. Despite this, we say it’s no less of an all-time Ferrari classic than the 250 GTO it owes its name to, or the more-focused F40 that followed it up.